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Claude Coats - My Fellow Imagineers - Tom Gilleon - Contemporary Art

For me personally, one of the first and definitely the most lasting Disney images was the candle from Pinocchio. I always wondered why it had such on impact on me and I now think it is because the image is perfection. It is pure, clean, and beautiful.  There are no superfluous elements to detract from the image. It is everything you feel about light in one image—warmth, inspiring, magical, safe, and enduring.  The candle is the image that the story illustrator strives to achieve. To me it’s the holy grail of illustration.


I think of Claude’s visual storytelling success as being directly connected to the power and economy of the images he created. He expertise in enticing guests to immerse themselves in the story using the dynamics of spatial relationships and color is unsurpassed.  The gutsy whimsical appeal of the plunging depths and surprising reveals of the Pirates of the Caribbean is a perfect example of Claude Coats’ visual storytelling talent.  For him, space was a study in big and small, light and dark, or narrow and wide as well as the emotional influence these contrasts had on guests. He paid attention to how guests moved through story spaces such as slow and paced to re-enforce amazement and curiosity with the pirates lair or fast with sudden changes creating surprise as with the unexpected drops into the pirate cave. As with the flow of space, Claude understood that color also creates continuity for the story and guest experience.  He was judicious in selecting colors that created the sensation desired such as mysterious forbidden pirate den with deep dark colors and spikes of contrast or the delightful fright of ghosts haunting a mansion at Disneyland with its rich antebellum interiors of dark wooden doors, patterned wallpapers, and shadow cast candelabra lighting.  Always being interested in point of view, Claude used it as a guideline for selecting the images that magically connected the guest with the story.  In Lady and the Tramp, Claude built the dog house to actual size so that he could experience the dogs’ perspective of the world influencing how he interpreted the way Tramp or Lady would see the carpet, the garden, or the ranting of the nurse.


Having the natural ability to tell story in a progression of interrelated scenes or spaces, Claude augmented this talent with his formal education holding a degree of architecture and fine arts from the University of Southern California. He continued study at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, California before joining The Walt Disney Studios to become a background painter, color stylist, and concept designer working on such films as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” "Cinderella," "Peter Pan" and "Lady and the Tramp." As a designer for Imagineering, Claude brought his animation background skill to the development team for the Grand Canyon and Primeval World Dioramas and his spatial storytelling talents to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Scary Adventures, and Submarine Voyage, among others.